She greeted me with a most infectious and energetic smile. No sooner had I stepped into her humble dwelling, than she began telling me stories that weren’t only old but mesmerising as well. “How about some lunch before we begin our chat session,” she said in a most pleasing manner. Indeed, it was tough to refuse and thankfully I did not do so. As I walked around the house, I noticed a few wall-hangings that reminded me those that I had seen at an exhibition. The fine precision with which each piece was stitched was truly commendable.The wide spread on dining table – fish biriyani, steamed sweet potatoes, fish curry, a unique Arabic dish and of course apple crumbles were to die for.
All this, however, was only the tip of the iceberg.
Meet 67-year-old Neena Thomas. A resident of Ernakulam, Neena is a seasonal trekker and believes that anything and everything is ‘worth a shot.’ “There is no harm in trying. In the case of not being able to complete the task, I can always step down. After all, being ‘old’ has its advantages,” Neena said in a most humorous tone.
It was not long before Neena and her husband Thomas, 72, began narrating the many stories of their lives.
Childhood, Badminton and College
Neena has three sisters and a brother. While her ancestral home is situated at Mulanthuruthy, approximately minutes from the heart of Kochi, she and family were raised in Ernakulam. As a child, Neena was, apparently, a chubby child. Determined to lose weight, her parents had encouraged to pursue a sport. It was then that she had developed an affinity towards badminton and had begun training at the Rama Varma Club in Ernakulam. Today, Neena continues to play an hour every day and still cherishes the joy that she feels while smashing the shuttle-cork across the court!At college, Neena chose to specialise in Home Science. “I really enjoyed it. Our teachers were very good those days,” she added.
The Fitness Regime – Secrets of a Trekker
Both Neena and her husband Thomas are examples of living a fit and healthy life. While Neena plays a game of Badminton every day, Thomas feels complete after two games of squash. Thomas even enjoys cycling. “I do not feel lost or upset in case I miss a day or two, but Thomas does feel out-of-place without enjoying a game or two of squash,” explains Neena. The couple also follows a strict diet – oats for breakfast, a simple lunch and a fruit or two for dinner. It is due to these reasons that she is able to participate in other outdoor activities as well.
Neena also enjoys trekking to various parts of Kerala. An active member of HAI (Hiking Association of India) Neena and her husband Thomas have explored some of the most tough trekking routes in the state.
“I have never considered age to be a factor and am always game to do different things. Honestly, I really do not know how to say NO,” Neena commented. “One must not be worried about growing old. Instead, no matter how old you get, one must do all that they can and live healthy,” added Thomas. It could be noted that the couple also prefers packing their own food while trekking. “We choose to pack our own food for we are afraid that the food served elsewhere, though good, may be too heavy for our stomachs. After all, it is always wiser to eat light while trekking,” explained Neena. When asked if she would like to climb the Himalayas, Neena responded with an enthusiastic – “Yes, Why not!”
Quilts, Bags and Recycled Sarees
If you have feared or ever refused to stitch your torn clothes, then Neena knows how to make the task appear fun and enjoyable. At first, she had taken me to her bedroom to showcase her collection of sarees that exemplify the term – mix ‘n’ match. Borders or even certain pieces of cut-work on one saree are stitched on to another old saree, thereby, creating a new ‘designer’ saree. “This idea had cropped up when I wanted to discard my old sarees. There weren’t many takers and I had too many sarees to store. So, I wondered – what if I could enhance the look of some of these sarees with certain elements? Now, I have many sarees that has been recycled in this manner. In fact, some of my friends and well-wishers have also asked me to do so for them as well,” Neena said.
The fun had only begun by then. Soon, she took to me her ‘work space’ where she displayed a set of carry bags for casserole – made of cloth and a wooden plank. These bags are made in two sizes and are sold at Rs. 600 and Rs. 800 each. The bags are often used by people during potluck lunches, dinner parties or even as a gift bag.
Curious to know how each stitch was flawless, Neena had finally revealed her most precious collection of all – the quilts!
From wall hangings to dining mats, these quilts were made in a most creative manner. “I had learnt the art of quilting when my husband and I were living in Kuwait. A few friends of mine were experts in the same and I was curious to learn how to do so,” said Neena. A winner of many quilting competitions, this gifted person has an entire room dedicated to her greatest passion. With books on quilting designs and infinite quilting tools, she truly loves everything that she does.
Content and Grateful
When asked if she yearned for anything more, said that she was truly grateful for all that she has received. “I am glad that I have a very supportive and encouraging husband. He is the reason why I am able to do so much. Honestly, I have nothing more to ask for. I am very happy,” Neena stated.